Recent reminiscing with entertainment reporter Joshua Clark about the prolific years when Hank Williams Jr. produced multiple albums every year took me back to 1987.
My sister was engaged to a gentleman from Harrisonville, and my family was making the trip from the low humidity of Montana to the intense humidity of Missouri during the heat of July.
My parents and grandmother, then in her 80s, accompanied by my brother and me, were all crammed into a 1978 Ford LTD with no air conditioning. At that point in my dad’s life, he had begun to take everything very seriously. My cousin described him as a “no nonsense” type of a person.
None of us truly realized a lot of this was a result of combat experiences as a machine-gunner on the front lines during the Korean War — something he absolutely refused to talk about.
In an effort to get him to lighten up I would joke with him. Still, there were times he didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.
He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots everywhere he went and my mom had begun to encourage him to buy a new hat. His was old and was getting greasy but he didn’t want to get another one.
Even though I can’t carry a tune I began to sing aloud the lyrics to Hank Junior’s “My Girl Don’t Like My Cowboy Hat” as we traveled. I thought this was a hoot and fit the situation perfectly, especially with my mom’s persistence in trying to persuade my dad to buy a new hat and throw the old one away.
“My girl don’t like my cowboy hat, she says it’s oh so yucky but she don’t know how lucky she is to have a man like me to take her to the disco. When we walk in they say, ‘hey, gee, there’s Hopalong and Cisco.’”
I had to quit singing that one cause my dad didn’t like it and switched to my own version of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead Or Alive.”
“My dad is a cowboy, on a steel horse he rides...”
In retrospect, this was probably a worse choice to sing when one considers the combat experience my dad endured. He didn’t like Bon Jovi either, so that too was dropped.
This experience relates the difficulty families of veterans may have in trying to understand how veterans process their war memories.
Those who haven’t been in a combat environment can’t relate, and I struggled greatly in that area never comprehending the magnitude of my dad’s feelings until he was gone, but I didn’t get it all wrong.
In spite of my goofiness, in the last few years of my dad’s life there were many times I did succeed in getting him to laugh, and in that time span I was the only one who could manage to do so.
I’m certain my methods and generational perspectives were foreign to his way of thinking, yet we loved each other. Every time I saw and heard my dad laugh, it felt like a personal victory had been achieved. He was able to experience just a little bit more of the joy of being alive.